Standing at 6-foot-1 and weighing 180 pounds, Shabazz Napier is the stereotypical visualization of a point guard. Napier is coming off the best year of his basketball career after winning an NCAA championship and being drafted into the Miami Heat organization. While many viewed his addition to the Heat as a favor to LeBron James (who had proclaimed Napier his favorite player in the draft) others were skeptical of his NBA potential. Napier, despite struggling in the NBA summer league, has the potential to be a solid point guard and possibly a starter later in his career, but in order to reach that level he's going to have to transition his game for the NBA.
Although Napier had an incredible year as a UCONN Huskie, averaging 18 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.6 assists his transition into the NBA so far has been all but seamless. Napier’s NBA debut in the Summer League was extremely rocky and has since spawned doubt regarding his ability to play at a high level this season. Napier played an extremely solid game against the Boston Celtics in his first summer league outing, demonstrating range from beyond the arc and stellar passing. However, as Summer League progressed Napier’s play declined. In Orlando, Napier averaged 9.2 points on 27% shooting, 3 rebounds, 4.6 assists. His shooting later improved slightly while in Vegas where he averaged 10.3 points on 27.7% shooting, however his rebounding digressed to 1.3 per game (which is strange considering he averaged almost six rebounds in college and three in Orlando). It’s evident the Napier needs to improve, his Summer League performances were at best lackluster and what’s striking is his poor shooting efficiency.
While he has the traditional body of a point guard, Napier is not tall by any means. With that being said he is going to have to rely on outside jumpers for the most part of his career. If Napier continues to shoot poorly from anywhere on the floor, he’ll find himself on the bench. The biggest worry among Miami point guards (Napier now included) is their tendency to slump shooting-wise. Norris Cole went through a shooting slump this season shooting just 34% from downtown, and so did Mario Chalmers dropping off in the postseason when he was most needed. ‘Rio who generally showed up in big moments (see Kansas NCAA championship) went from shooting 38% from three in the regular season to 34% in the postseason. Despite speculation as to what Napier may become, it’s important to note that he has not yet played a single NBA season minute and seems committed to improving saying:
It’s a big adjustment. I’m unable to do a lot of things I was on the college level. I’ve got to find the adjustments on how to do those things. I’ve still got the college game coming in. We’re learning on the fly, and we’re going to make big mistakes. This is a different game.
Napier is absolutely correct, asserting that the Summer League is a place for mistakes. However, It's important that rookies find their NBA niche early and work to perfect it. At UCONN, Napier was incredibly crafty with his handle, and able to create space and initiate offense effortlessly that leaves ability for him to be a solid playmaker if he's not shooting well. Regardless, Napier was a very good shooter as a Huskie but my only gripe with his shot is that he has a slow release. Napier has a very unorthodox jumper and seems to gather for a second in the air kicking his leg out before actually shooting the basketball, as can be seen by the footage provided.
With the NBA three-point line being farther than that of the NCAA, he will likely need to grow his range and with it his shooting speed or he won't be able to get his shot off. With the three-point shot being a staple of his game, it's likely his poor shooting exhibition in Summer League was a result of changing his shot. Napier fades when he kicks his leg out which limits his range and there were several opportunities where he opted to shoot more traditionally, but in later instances he relied on his unorthodox form.
Despite any shooting woes that may come to fruition, Napier is a great passer and will no doubt be able to set up the Heat's athletic roster for some beautiful plays.
To many, Napier is an enigma. There are instances in which he displays flashes of greatness and other times where his play concerns me. He has the potential to either become a Kyle Lowry type point guard, or a Jarrett Jack backup type point guard. I'm intrigued by his style of play, and hope his offseason training leads to better NBA performances down the line.
Regardless of his flaws, Napier is a two time NCAA champion and he knows what it takes to be an integral part of a great team and will no doubt bring that mentality into the Heat locker room.